Tispr Stories: Joseph Diaz is Turning Transcendent Inspiration into Film

As our Tispr Stories continue, we are excited to bring front and center Joseph Diaz, a traveling cinematographer whose passion for creativity is only equaled by his free spirit. No wonder he chose freelancing as a way of work and a way of life.

Here is what Joe has to say about being a freelancer, working in the film and photography world and where inspiration comes from.

Who you are as a person or what makes you...you?

I’m a maker of films, friends and coffee. My life is driven by curiosity, creativity, compassion and a dash of chaos. My life tends to be tumultuous by its very nature, I haven’t spent more than 2 years in the same spot in my entire adult life, but amidst all the transience I’ve sought stability within deep friendships and the pursuit of seeing and savoring beauty.

What made you decide to pursue freelancing? Or what is bringing you back to freelance now?

I’ve never been good inside of an authoritative, regimented structure, but I also have an obsession with my work. The net result was that I ended up stretching myself to the point of deteriorating health and utter despondency as I worked myself to the bone to meet my own standards.

The common arc of my salaried employment was that I was constantly frustrated as I pushed myself to meet an insatiable standard. I found myself increasingly burnt out year after year. I needed something more freeform so that I could explode into a frenzy of work and creativity, and then settle down into rest.

“There is a sense of surpassing goodness and rapturous beauty that is soon and unexpectedly going to break through the clouds and enter the world”

How did you get into films and photography?

I spent the most formative years of my life, from late middle school to after college, as an aspiring musician and that pursuit defined nearly every aspect of my identity. At around 22 years old, I bought a Canon Rebel T2i because I thought it could give me in an edge in producing video content for my musical endeavors, but it ended up shaping me in a much more profound way.

A few years down the road, two close friends of mine who had made the transition from music industry to filmmaking were relocating from New Jersey to Los Angeles and invited me to join them on their trip. I decided to go as a sort of palate cleansing, soul-refreshing experience, and to figure out what to do with my life post-graduation.

The first morning we hit the road, I was seated in front-passenger seat. As I was looking out, my friend in the back seat woke up, grabbed his camera, and extended his arm out past me to capture the view. The way his arm was reached out, the monitor was directly in front of me, and I saw how the sun would flare the lens as it broke through the trees. Something triggered within me at that moment, and within a month from that time, I was filming my first paid gig and from there it was off to the races. I started on the career track of filming, learning, and growing, and I’ve never looked back.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

My favorite project will always be the very next one, followed closely by the previous one.

My all time favorite project to date has to have been “Harvesting Manna”, which was a film I made for an organization called 2 Seconds Or Less during a month long stay in Zimbabwe. I’d say my life has been pretty defined by the reckless “yes” I gave to that project. It was in Zimbabwe that I decided I wanted to transition out of making wedding films. I discovered an entire new capability of my skill set as a filmmaker, and I filmed the piece that would eventually get me hired to LG Electronics - which has been the most formative time of my film life.

Where does the inspiration for your projects come from?

I was raised in a very Christian household, where curiosity and questions were always encouraged. Within that worldview, there is a sense of this surpassing goodness and rapturous beauty that is soon and unexpectedly going to break through the clouds and enter the world.

However, by the time I had hit high school I started suffering pretty seriously from depression, so all of a sudden there was this heavy veil between my emotional experience and my cognitive understanding of how life ought to be. From then on, I really tried to square these realities, which took forms of studying theology, introspectively analyzing myself, and creating constantly in any means available.

Year after year my heart feels heavier, and this joy existing beyond the universe seems brighter and brighter - though covered by clouds. Within art, I find a way to reconcile the darkness and find some of the light. I believe that through creativity and service to others we bring a small piece of heaven to earth, and that’s done not only through the project itself but also in the way that we treat each other and the services with which we provide each other.

Why do you do what you do?

The simplest answer would be the impulse to create. It feels so central to my existence that life would be unbearable without it. The more mature iteration of that is that I now see that creation can also be used as a means to serve others, to tell their stories, showcase their struggles and triumphs, and ultimately uplift and enhance their lives.

What it's like being in your line of work?

It’s such a multifaceted and engaging experience. Filmmaking is intensely collaborative, intimate, and challenging, especially when you are freelancing. There’s the artistic element of creativity, but there’s so many other technical aspects that it really feels like it takes a lifetime to master. Like most vocations, when it’s done well, it feels effortless, but the time, talent and energy that goes into making it seem that way is incredible.

What have you learned/gained from freelancing?

Your health is the most pivotal part of the entire equation. I used to spend so much time deeply engrossed in my work that anything related to my personal wellbeing fell immediately to the wayside. I do more for myself in a day now than I used to do in a month when I was in the salaried structure.

When working on challenging projects, I realize that I can work immeasurably faster and better if my health is in good condition. The correlation is so strong that I’ve begun to focus on bettering my health as the primary means of advancing my career.

“The impulse to create feels so central to my existence that life would be unbearable without it”

How has being a freelancer changed your life?

 Perhaps it sounds extreme, but it’s brought my humanity back into the equation, along with all the glorious highs and lows that come with it. I’ve always been a very ambitious creative, and within the salaried spheres, all my needs for finances, challenge, and fulfillment could be met with no regard for my personal health.

As a freelancer, it’s much more challenging to navigate the myriad of tasks - I’m actually writing this while procrastinating on choosing my health insurance. Some of these accomplishments are small but significant - I’ve launched my website after owning the domain for 8 years, I’ll have made my first reel after filming for 7 years, and I’ll have finalized the identity design of an endeavor I’ve been planning for 3 years. As a freelancer, I can now focus on utilizing my strengths and addressing my weakness.

What advice would you give to your younger yourself?

Buy bitcoin the first time you think you ought to, sell the first time think you ought to. Congrats, your student debt is now paid off.

Seriously though, I would tell myself to trust my instincts, to learn to rest well, and never give up moving towards peace and balance. I would also encourage myself to cultivate patience and discipline, that the most important marker of a self-improvement is not short-lived high intensity activity, but consistent and steady improvements day after day.

What has been the hardest thing about being a freelancer?

The lack of familiarity that comes with freelancing. Tasks that are not related to my specialized skills have been a massive problem for me. Within salaried jobs I could simply clock in, get my work done, and everything else was provided for. Now on a daily basis I’m dealing with varied needs from marketing my services to choosing my health care plan. In addition to that, the more complex financial needs of forecasting income and planning accordingly has been terrifying. Perhaps the hardest of all though has been answering the question “So what have you been doing?”

 

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